Mark Your Calendar for Spring!
by Daphne Bishop
It may not be spring yet, but 1000 Radishes are about to sprout up, and with them potentially far-reaching ways to connect local growers with the people who crave their wares.
You may recall, we told you about 1000 Radishes last summer. It’s a high-tech way to find what’s in season, connect with the people who grow it, and cook it up in delicious recipes. And it’s an offshoot of Will Work for Food, the project started by our energetic friend, Valerie Gates. She’s been offering barter and reduced rate services from her award-winning design firm to small New England farmers for about a year now. In return, they have been providing the bounty of field, pasture, henhouse and ocean to Valerie and her family.
1000 Radishes was the brainchild of MIT Professor Abel Sanchez, PHD who approached Valerie about ways to use technology to enhance her project, and Tod Dimmick, cookbook author and editor of tastingtimes.com.
But what looked fairly straightforward last summer has grown more complex. Valerie and partners will now be offering more than the original phone app enabling consumers to locate the freshest in-season produce and foods. And, there is going to be a formal “launch” in the Boston area on March 22nd, just two days after the Spring Equinox.
As the team worked on the dimensions of the phone app during the fall of 2009, and with MIT “being a hotbed” for emerging technologies, they realized they could offer something more cutting edge.
“One of the challenges,” says Valerie “is that technology is growing by leaps and bounds in a short space of time. No sooner did we do one update, than new possibilities would emerge.” While it is a longer development period than anticipated, the best part, Valerie believes,” is that it is going to really help farmers, and going to strengthen the connection between families and farms.” And it will take the “where hip meets crunchy” idea and “make it even cooler.”
Details of the expansion are being kept very quiet for now. “We’re working on a fun location for our debut,” says Valerie, adding that it would be especially nice to have the “launch” in one of the barns at a local farm. There is also the possibility of a celebratory dinner featuring local foods. Wherever they decide, she notes that the 1000 Radishes creators want the occasion to acknowledge the consumer love and support that has given family farms a new lease on life.
Valerie has also stayed busy during the fall and winter months with Will Work for Food and has fielded inquiries from as far away as Iowa and Washington, D.C. She encourages more niche farmers to contact her, as she still has available slots for reduced fee services that would help with branding, marketing and design.
One organic meat rancher in the Midwest contacted Valerie after reading an article about her. Her work with the Bar 20 Ranch in Ames, Iowa includes branding the ranch and its food product line. But they are also exploring the farm “as a destination.” Located two hours from Chicago and St. Louis, Bar 20 could offer consumers something they are longing for: a close-up look at sustainable food production. This could well be “the new entertainment for the green family!” Valerie says with enthusiasm.
The desire to connect with farmers and small scale food producers is something Valerie and her colleagues are hearing about from “a lot of people.” In fact, she was amazed at how many calls she has received from college students who want to volunteer on farms during school breaks and summer vacations. There is a very real need “for a clearinghouse to connect kids with farmers.”
Since an integral part of the work is experiencing and relishing fresh, locally grown foods whenever possible, Valerie and friends also held a harvest dinner “in which everything was sourced from within a ten mile radius.” Chef Dimmick created a mouth watering menu that included ratatouille and grilled burgers with buns that used flour ground at a Sudbury grist mill, as well as pear desserts and wine. And, with a tongue in cheek nod to the ideal of eating “hyper local foods,” Valerie adds that the group savored “well water from 40 feet away.”
Valerie has also kept her husband, Barry Friedman, and her two children very much involved with her work. In fact, the family spent Labor Day weekend building a stone wall where the family garden will again be this year. She admits it took a little bit of a bribe. “But I said, ‘look, we can hire someone to build the wall or we can do it the old-fashioned way.’” And in the end, the activity turned out to be as much fun as it was heavy work.
It’s worth remembering that Will Work for Food and 1000 Radishes, and the ripples both projects are continuing to create all began because Valerie read two books. “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” by Michael Pollan and “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” by Barbara Kingsolver both explore the ways in which food is produced in this country – from industrial farms to backyard chicken coops. For Valerie, reading the books spawned a desire to find and feed her family the healthiest local foods, as well as to connect them with the people who produced them. The ways in which that seemingly simple goal developed has gone “far beyond what I could ever have imagined,” she says.
So, mark your calendar for March 22nd and the rollout of the 1000 Radishes application. We’ll be sure to fill you in on all the details, and let you know when the food is ready.